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Husband is Great but
I still have to "Ask" for Help

QUESTION: I've been married for 13 years, and have 2 children ages 9 and 5. Both my husband and I work outside the home. I feel very fortunate to be in a very loving relationship both with my spouse and our children. We get along very well and respect each other.

The problems come with "sharing responsibilities". My husband will help out almost every time I ask, but I do not understand why I have to "ask for help" when it is clearly evident that help is needed. Such as when I am running around the house in the morning trying to accommodate everybody. I get extremely aggravated when I feel that the "household and children responsibilities" are mine. I would like to leave for work in the morning without feeling like I have already put in a full days work.

You are not alone in encountering the "cultural loading" that women experience in families. Though it is true that your spouse is loving and clearly a very responsible husband and father, you resent the sole responsibility for overseeing all of the emotional caretaking in the family.

Women who provide economically are still primed for accepting home and emotional caretaking responsibilities, while men are not. The overwhelming outcome is for women to overwork. But this work "overload" often comes with a high price tag of increased depression and decreased marital satisfaction.

Talk with your husband about your feelings. Let him know that you appreciate him, but feel alone with the emotional responsibility for your children's well-being. Though your husband responds to your requests, his lack of initiation or independent responsiveness reveals that he leaves the work of "worrying" about these things to you.

Women are raised to accept emotional responsibility for caretaking others. Traditionally, men are not. You have a "good" marriage, in that your husband respects you and honors your opinions on these matters. Perhaps you are looking for an even "better" marriage which does not leave you alone in your "sense" of responsibility for how the house looks, is run and how the children "turn out".

It is true that women feel pressured to devote more to motherhood and household duties than men because they are viewed by society as "more responsible" (consciously and unconsciously) for the result! Consequently, the set up for men to report feeling a lowered "standard" for housework and less expectation for involvement in their children's development than their female counterparts is common.

Despite the natural inevitability of this gender paradox, it is essential to the intimacy in your marriage that your spouse attempt to understand this dilemma. Bridging this gender gap may not be entirely possible, since you may not be able to unprogram your own involvement and he may not be able to fully sensitize himself to "feel" the responsibility in the same way that society reserves for mothers. Still, much can be done to increase awareness of these differences and changes in behavior can result.

Talk with your husband about his experience of his father with respect to household chores and raising children. What was the role of his mother in the family? How did his parents share economic and emotional caretaking and household responsibilities? Compare the work his mother did for the family with his father's responsibilities. Compare the divisions of work that exist in your own family currently. Point out to your husband that you work similar hours in providing for the economic health of the family and that you need him to step forward to take initiative for organizing and responding to the traditional realm of caretaking home and children.

Perhaps there are whole areas of responsibility that could be shifted to your husband's plate, such as being responsible for meal planning, girl scout meetings or science projects. It may lighten your load to experience your husband calling you up at work to check your schedule for the next teacher-student conference. Such an action may also endear you to a spouse who changes in response to your needs.

Raising awareness of gender issues in your family will assure that your feelings do not simply fester. Talking about inequities where they exist may not completely rectify society, but it can be effective at lightening your load and bridging the gap you are experiencing in your marriage.

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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